If you’re reading this blog it’s a safe bet that you belong to a social network or two – probably more these days. Facebook paved the way for a whole host of online communities that followed. But many of us are looking for something more from our online networking and, if reports are to be believed, people are abandoning Facebook in droves (although we don’t think Facebook will be disappearing any time soon). So as we mature in the way we use social networks and what we demand of them, what’s the future likely to bring to social networking?
These days just because someone launches a social network, doesn’t mean they have designs on being the next Facebook (well, maybe in their deepest desires). What they are increasingly tapping into is the trend towards niche social networks. These could be online communities that focus on a particular feature, as Instagram does with photo sharing and slide.ly does with sharing music and photos, or social networks that cater for a specific group of people, united by common interests, beliefs or demographics. Sure you could start a group on Facebook or LinkedIn, but there are many reasons why that’s not always enough: we are a more innovative bunch than that, we may have concerns about privacy and we want a more personal approach than Facebook can bring us (ad targeting doesn’t count).
Which leads me on to the next trend. Ever since the birth of the Internet, issues around privacy and authentication have been omnipresent. It used to be that anonymity was part of the attraction of the Internet, and to some it will always remain so. But due to the dangers this presents to potential victims of unscrupulous and malicious users, there are many organisations seeking to make the Internet a safer place through verification.
As online trust and reputation impacts on real world commercial success, online communities are increasingly seek ways to authenticate their users. Only last week airbnb announced that they will be vetting their 4m users to ensure they are who they say they are – I’m confident we can all see the benefits in avoiding a dodgy stranger kipping in your spare room, or sharing your car!
Unii is a new social network launching today (client) that taps into both of these trends. Aimed squarely at undergraduate students who want what goes on at uni to stay at uni, the network protects students from the prying eyes of parents – or potential employers – by verifying them using their university email addresses.
Beyond the privacy issues, Unii will provide students with all the features and services they need to ease their transition into higher education, such as finding accommodation, joining and managing societies and finding placements and jobs. It does all this whilst making it easy for students to connect with others from their course, campus, or other UK universities, who are also sharing the same student journey. I certainly wish there had been something like this when I landed in Sheffield as a student [redacted] years ago, not knowing a soul and with nowhere to live.
Sadly that predated Facebook and widespread use of the Internet.
There is a lot to be said for knowing your customer niche and focusing on creating an experience that constantly delights them, rather than trying to be all things to all people, so it’ll be exciting to see how the niche social network space develops in the coming months.